Soto Has Outside Chance to Make Tribe’s Bullpen
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the Spring Invitees and their chance to make the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.
By Mike Brandyberry
Success in one role can sometimes lead to an opportunity in a different role. For Indians minor leaguer, and spring invitee, Giovanni Soto, a change in role and a solid spring could give the left-hander a chance to be a big leaguer quicker than once originally expected.
Soto has been a starting pitcher through his minor league development with the Indians, but a strong season at Double-A Akron in 2012 has landed him an invitation to Spring Training and opportunity to compete for the a place in the Tribe’s bullpen.
With an above average fastball and an outstanding cutter that rides in on left-handed hitters, Soto has an outside shot to make the Tribe’s bullpen. While he has always been a starting pitcher in the Indians minor league system, he has pitched as a relief pitcher in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
“Doing both is just getting me ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Soto said through an interpreter. “In case they do put me in the bullpen, I will have done it before. As long as they give me the ball, I just want to pitch.”
Last season, Soto spent the entire season with Akron—his first in Double-A—going 6-9, with a 3.93 ERA in 22 starts. His season was highlighted by a no-hitter against Altoona on July 15. Soto allowed only three walks and struck out six on 104 pitches to earn only the second no-hitter in Aeros’ history. Of all things, a ground ball back to him off the bat of Quincy Lattimore was when he thought he had a chance to throw the no-hitter.
“I thought about the seventh inning when I had a ground ball back to me,” Soto said. “My glove was new and a little hard. The ball bounced out of the glove and I had to hurry to get the runner at first. The play was really close to get him out. After that, I thought I had a chance.”
Despite Soto’s success in 2012, his season was cut short when he was shut down in early August after throwing 121.1 innings on the season. He was shut down as a precaution since he had missed a considerable amount of time during the 2011 season with left-elbow inflammation. Soto missed the opportunity to pitch in the Eastern League playoffs with the Aeros.
“I wasn’t really frustrated when they shut me down because I knew it was for my own benefit,” Soto said. “I knew I didn’t pitch as many innings the year before to go a full season in 2012. I thought it was a decent season. I had my ups and downs. It worked out because I could work on my number one pitch and stay healthy.”
His number one pitch—the cutter—is believed to be Major League ready. The Indians will get a look at Soto early in camp and during the exhibition season before he pitches for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He’s expected to pitch out of the bullpen in the WBC and should be able to prove his value against power house teams like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
If Soto proves he can effectively get left-handed hitters out, he could challenge to make the Indians’ bullpen. The left side of the Tribe pen is full of unproven candidates after Rafael Perez was non-tendered a contract and Tony Sipp was traded to Arizona this winter. Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and David Huff will all be vying for a place in the southpaw side of the bullpen.
Soto pitched in relief this winter in the Puerto Rican Winter League, going 1-0, with a 1.17 ERA in 11 games. He struck out 19 hitters in only 15.1 innings of work.
He was a 21st round selection by the Detroit Tigers in the 2009 June Draft and was traded to the Indians on July 29, 2010 for Jhonny Peralta. Soto was pitching for West Michigan in the Midwest League against the Lake County Captains when he was dealt. He simply switched clubhouses to join his new team and organization.
If Soto is unable to make the Indians as a left-handed reliever, it is likely the Tribe will use the second half of Spring Training to stretch out Soto and return him to his place in the starting rotation. He doesn’t turn 22-years old until May and has room to continue to grow. If Soto remains a starter, he likely will begin the season at Triple-A Columbus. Regardless of role, Soto is happy for the opportunity and doesn’t really change his approach on the mound.
“I don’t do things differently,” Soto said. “I prefer to be a starter just because you get more time between appearances. I really don’t mind it, I just want to pitch.”
Photo: David Monseur/Akron Aeros